Why wear spurs?

By Judith Phillips

Some of you will have seen a recent article in the Teesdale Mercury about my colleague Rosie Bradford and her grandfather’s spurs.  What a pity he wasn’t from Teesdale – I’d have loved to have that story in our project!  Rosie wondered why the spurs were fitted with small tin ‘wheels’.

But, thanks to a lady in Barnard Castle who reads the Mercury, I can add a little to the story of spurs in the First World War.  Her father was in the artillery and she brought in her father’s WWI spurs which are also fitted with small tin discs.  She also brought in a copy of ‘A Saturday Night Soldier’s War 1913-1918’ by Norman Tennant, published in 1983.  Tennant was studying at Bradford School of Art when war broke out and the book is full of his drawings, illustrating his war experience – some of them are really funny, despite the horrors around him.  In 1913 Tennant had joined the local Territorial Army unit – a battery of 5 inch howitzers – so he was called up with the rest of the unit in 1914.  The book title refers to the slightly derogatory nickname for a Territorial Army soldier before the war, but attitudes had changed by the end of the war as the Territorials had been through some of the worst campaigns on the Western Front.

Tennant gives an amusing account of all the equipment he had to get on a recalcitrant horse – rolled greatcoat, blanket, nosebag with horse’s feed, hay net, mess tin, missile bucket containing signalling flags, plus ‘sundry odds and ends’ – and he points out that all the equipment prevented the right leg from being thrown smartly over the saddle in mounting.  Just after this, Tennant describes the results of what he describes as ‘a certain amount of unofficial attention’ to the ‘walking out dress’ as the second khaki uniform was called.  Among the changes ‘…the swan necked spurs [were] fitted with tin discs in the rowels to give a jingle when the heel met the ground in walking.’  So, you would be able to hear the artillery officers as they approached along the hard surface of a road or pavement.  I suspect that probably didn’t happen very often in the mud of the Western Front.

Incidentally, the spurs were marked ‘CROSS’.  Does anyone know what that indicates?  Was it the name of a firm of spurs-makers?  If you have any further information about spurs or any other aspect of the war, especially relating to Teesdale people, I’d love to hear from you.